3G AND 4G ARE HERE
3G and 4G refer to the third and fourth generations of
cell phone technology. The first generation was plain old
analog FM. The second generation was digital phones that
expanded the subscriber capacity of cellular networks. 3G
is also digital but with a greater data capability. Data means
text messages, Internet, email, video, and games, and any new
thing that comes along. The minimum 3G data rate is 384
kbps but most 3G services offer high rates depending on the
network, the technology, environmental conditions, and other
factors but is typically several megabits per second (Mbps).
3G also defines the radio and access technologies.
The world’s most popular 3G technology is wideband CDMA
(code division multiple access) offered by a majority of
carriers worldwide. It is available in the US from AT&T and
T-Mobile, as well as some of the smaller carriers. WCDMA
provides a data rate to 2 Mbps. Most carriers have updated
their 3G systems to a faster technology called high speed
packet access (HSPA) that gives even faster rates to 7, 14,
and 21 Mbps depending on the carrier’s implementation.
The other predominant 3G technology is cdma2000.
Also a form of CDMA but incompatible with WCDMA,
this system is used by Sprint and Verizon. It works well
and has various data capabilities up to many Mbps.
The fourth generation (4G) is just getting started. It
essentially means faster data rates making it a better user
experience for video, games, and Internet access by cell phone.
The first 4G system to go online was Sprint and Clearwire
with their WiMAX technology. This is a high speed wireless
system that uses orthogonal frequency division multiplexing
(OFDM). It easily provides many Mbps of data speed over a
wide range. You can get it now from Sprint using the HTC Evo
smartphone (see Figure 2). WiMAX is also available as a high
speed wireless broadband connection at home from Clear
— the Clearwire data service. It is an alternative to cable TV
or DSL for Internet access in many areas around the US.
The primary 4G technology is called long term
evolution (LTE). Similar to WiMAX, it also uses OFDM. All
the major carriers are well on their way to evolving their
systems to LTE. LTE promises 50 to 100 Mbps data rates
under favorable conditions. MetroPCS in the US has just
launched LTE, with Verizon not too far behind. AT&T and
T-Mobile will no doubt implement LTE starting in 2011.
Not too many LTE phones are available yet but many are
in development. The Samsung Craft is the LTE phone used
by MetroPCS subscribers, but more are on the way.
Upgrading a cellular network to 4G is a huge and
expensive task. It will take time and a major capital
investment. Look for 4G to come along gradually with
service in the major cities first, then elsewhere over time.
Cell phone base stations will need to be expanded and
many will get new antenna systems to accommodate the
multiple antenna technology in LTE referred to as multiple
input multiple output (MIMO). In addition, the backhaul
connections from the base stations to the main cellular
office and switches are undergoing a major upgrade. The
widely used slower T1 digital telephone lines are being
replaced with faster fiber optic cable and high speed
microwave links. Overall, it will take time but it has to be
done as the backhaul is the last bottleneck in the system
to handle the millions of fast cell phone connections.
THE OPERATING SYSTEMS
A major feature of any personal computer is its operating
system (OS). Most people have some form of Microsoft
Windows like XP, Vista, or the new Windows 7. Apple users
have their OS X version. A few hardy souls use Firefox or
Chrome. In any case, the OS is a big deal as it affects how
we use our PCs, laptops, or netbooks, and it determines what
software we can run and the operations we can perform.
The question is what does an OS have to do with a cell phone?
Most smartphones are so complex and have so many
functions that they require an OS to manage all the memory
and functions. Each of the main smartphone manufacturers
has its own OS and it has become a big deal as it defines
how the cell phones are used. Apple’s iPhone OS is probably
the benchmark for smartphones as it has established the
operational modes with icons on a touch screen and other
functions like swipe and zoom. BlackBerry has its own OS,
as well. However, the OS that has emerged as the one to beat
is Google’s Android. It is essentially free and open software
(except for patent licensing) that has been adopted by
Samsung, HTC, Motorola, LG, and a few others. It may turn
out to be the highest volume OS in use in another year or so.
Nokia — the highest volume cell phone manufacturer
in the world — has used its own OS called Symbian. Until
recently, it was the highest volume cell phone OS in the
world. Now, Nokia has a new OS called MeeGo that is a
joint development with Intel. It is used on their latest
smartphone entry called the N8, shown in Figure 3.
So, where is Microsoft in all of this? Microsoft has had
a cell phone OS from the beginning, but it has never been
a dominant player. However, Microsoft is still trying. Their
new Phone 7 OS for smartphones is now available and
some phones are now available from Dell, Samsung, LG,
and HTC with that OS. Figure 4 shows the new HTC
smartphone with Windows Phone 7. It remains to be seen
how well it will stand up to
the iPhone and Android OSs.
You don’t have to worry
about selecting an OS for
your cell phone. It comes
preinstalled and handles all
the functions. And it defines
how you use the phone, its
ease, and convenience. You
can update it with new
versions later as they
■ FIGURE 2. The HTC EVO is
the first 4G cell phone. It
uses the WiMAX OFDM
wireless technology on Spint
and Clearwire networks.
December 2010 69